Practically popular: 27 years ago, Phil Hopkins fell short against
1:16 AM ET Pete ThamelESPN Fairleigh Dickinson will live now in NCAA tournament eternity, linked
in highlight reels and slow-motion montages that offer everlasting March backdrops.The Knights bugged and hounded No. 1 Purdue to end up being simply the 2nd men’s No. 16 seed since the
NCAA competition broadened to 64 teams in 1985 to manage a first-round upset. No. 16 seeds are now 2-150 vs. No. 1 seeds after the 63-58 win.As history unfolded Friday night for Tobin Anderson’s team, I couldn’t help thinking about the coach of one of those forgotten
150. His funeral is Saturday morning.I wished I could have texted former Western Carolina coach Phil Hopkins on Friday night, a coach who will be kept in mind for being almost popular
. After almost managing one of the excellent upsets in NCAA tournament history as a No. 16 seed back in 1996 against No. 1 Purdue, Hopkins ‘story reminds us that history does not keep in mind the near upset.Editor’s Picks 2 Related Phil Hopkins passed away on March 2 at age 73, and his services are on Saturday morning in his hometown Pelzer S.C. Having actually gotten to know Hopkins in the years after his Western Carolina tenure ended up as the archetype for March heartbreak, it’s safe to state his affinity for rooting for the underdog would remain strong in the afterlife.With Purdue again on the cusp of infamy on Friday night, it was hard not to think about Hopkins. It was Gene Keady’s group back in 1996 that got scared to the verge, as Western Carolina’s upset bid rocked the
The Pit in Albuquerque to unequaled decibels. Hopkins ‘adventurous Western Carolina of the Southern Conference had 2 shots in the air in the last seconds– one to win and one to tie– that rimmed out. Purdue made it through and advanced, 73-71. Butler coach Thad Matta, who was Hopkins’top assistant on that 1996 Western Carolina group, once told me:”I don’t know a day goes by where I do not consider missing out on those 2 chance ats completion. “The homespun Hopkins and the Catamounts
of Cullowhee, N.C., were relegated with those last caroms from competition icons to footnotes. Instead of being the standard bearer for NCAA upsets, Hopkins and his crew were rather forever connected to
what could have been.”We should have to win,”Hopkins said in the press conference that night back in 1996. Phil Hopkins coached five seasons at Western Carolina. Lee Davenport/Icon SMI Hopkins took the NCAA tournament moment. After disturbing Davidson in the Southern Conference title game, he proposed to his then-girlfriend on the arena loudspeaker. He got a lot of mileage out of the line quantifying his enjoyment:”Well, I have actually been wed previously, however I’ve never been to the NCAA’s. “Hopkins’profession profiles as a timeless multi-directional school vagabond– Middle Tennessee, Radford, Wyoming, Indiana State and finally getting his break when promoted at Western Carolina. He made the NCAAs in his first season as head coach at Western Carolina, however never quite regained the magic.Once Hopkins’ moment escaped, his college profession quickly followed. He coached at Western Carolina four more years prior to a brand-new athletic director– previous ECU AD Jeff Compher– didn’t renew his contract. The school hasn’t gone back to the NCAA tournament because that night in 1996. I stumbled across Hopkins’ story early
in my career, looking into a Georgetown star named Lee Scruggs who had actually when devoted to Western Carolina before going to junior college and winding up at Georgetown.In trying to track down Hopkins to ask about Scruggs’high school recruitment, I happened to capture him on the phone in the break room at a junior high in Walhalla, S.C. It was an unlikely start to a friendship. And the setting was the essence of a coach who discovered more satisfaction coaching far from the intense lights.A couple of years later, with his previous assistant Matta on the cusp of taking Ohio State to the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed in 2007, I decreased and invested a long time with Hopkins in Walhalla. He took me to a cafeteria-style fried chicken joint in town and gleefully detailed what amounted to the coaching equivalent of a country music song. Purdue, on Friday, became just the second No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed. Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images While at Western Carolina in the wake of their early success, a couple of colleges called about him growing jobs. But he remained out of loyalty and fit.
But things soon unraveled. He wound up getting divorced from the lady whom he proposed to over the arena intercom. Even
the swoosh tattoo he got after getting the Western Carolina task backfired, as Nike ended its contract with Western not long after it made the NCAA.Perhaps the most gutting professional thing that happened to Hopkins was that his athletic director didn’t understand that he was sitting on a goldmine lineup. Hopkins didn’t get brought back after going 14-14 in 1999-00 with star freshman twins– one was the league’s Gamer of the Year, the other
was the league’s Freshman of the Year.After Hopkins’departure, Jarvis and Jonas Hayes moved to Georgia, with Jarvis Hayes turning into the No. 10 pick in the NBA Draft in 2003. By then, Hopkins was coaching in junior high and discovered that same question sticking around from the Purdue game– what could have been?While things turned sour professionally for Hopkins in college basketball, among the factors our friendship withstood long after our fried chicken dinner in 2007 was that he never ever let the minute define him.He found a specific niche training junior high school kids, and even denied a Division II job due to the fact that he liked training middle school boys and ladies. As he spun the stories at supper at the Steak House that night, players and previous players turned up and welcomed him like family. He ‘d run for mayor in town and lost in a buzzer beater of an election, but it was difficult to see how.”He was among the most unselfish individuals I ‘d ever been around,”said Eastern Illinois associate head coach Doug Novsek.”He was humble and loved his household.” play 2:00 FDU makes NCAA history as second guys’s 16-seed to manage an upset Fairleigh Dickinson shocks 1-seed Purdue to end up being the 2nd guys’s 16-seed to knock off a top seed.Hopkins boasted on his 2
kids, Phil Jr. and Somer, and sent picture after picture of him with his 7 grandkids. They didn’t know him as a practically well-known college coach, however a precious grandfather everyone called Hoppa.One of the long-lasting powers of the NCAA tournament is how it bonds all of us. Every March, it reunites alumni, fires up
friendship through brackets and fuels group texts from old pals.
It’s a flurry of games, all condensed as the years pass to select minutes that transcend and resonate.Hopkins ‘minute rimmed out, however it never ever rattled his spirit. He ‘d sign in every March with an update for what he liked to call his 15 minutes of fame, detailing the interview demands and folks who ‘d check in. But the majority of our texts are the pictures of him and his grandkids, who he coached with palpable pride after transferring to Richmond in current years.The night that Hopkins’importance for being nearly popular paved the way to UMBC’s Ryan Odom capturing the holy grail of upsets back in 2018, I shot Hopkins a text to see if he was enjoying. The exchange perfectly summarized his life after college basketball when he wrote back the next day. Hopkins admitted he slept through the popular UVA-UMBC game, as he was worn down from spending the early morning with the 7 grandkids.”I guarantee that nobody at UMBC,”he said in his text back in 2018, “had as much fun as I had this morning. “Phil Hopkins will be remembered as the man for whom the epic upset eluded. As he’s laid to rest on Saturday early morning, I’ll remember my friend as someone who still found all the shining minutes.